Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Other Forces at Work in the World

Twelve years is a long time. It doesn't seem like it has been that long since the terrorist attacks in 2001, but the date suggests otherwise. 

I was reminded of how long it has really been a few weeks ago while watching the teen tournament on  Jeopardy. One of the questions was, "In October 2001 Congress passed this act to deter and punish terrorism."  In my mind it was an easy question as the answer could not be anything other than "The Patriot Act," so I was surprised when none of the three contestants got it right.  But then Alison pointed out that these kids would have been no older than 4 or 5 when the Patriot Act was passed. To them it is no more current than the Sedition Act of 1918 or the Social Security Act of 1935. Twelve years can, indeed, be a long time...

In some ways much has changed since that September morning twelve years ago, but in others very little has changed at all. 

My own thoughts have certainly developed as my focus has shifted and widened. Last year I reflected upon the ways in which my perspective had changed in May It Always Seem Like Yesterday

One thing that appears not to have changed is the manner in which politics influence and guide this nation. The surge of national unity that followed September 11 is difficult to find in our current political climate. Partisanship reigns supreme and many of the same problems remain or have gotten worse. It is easy to feel as though there is little reason to hope, and I have often felt that way myself. The failures and inaction of Congress and our president have had deep personal impacts on my life and it often appears as though our leaders care little for the effects their decisions and actions have on their constituents. Yet, as I write to you today, hope is the very thing that is on my heart. 

As bleak as things sometime appear, it is helpful to remember who we are and where we have come from. I am currently taking three classes in what will, Lord willing, be my last semester of coursework (with a research seminar and internship to follow in the spring) of graduate school. Those three classes cover the early American Republic, Reconstruction, and the interwar period (between WWI and WWII). As I find myself in the midst of my third week of class, I have already observed a multitude of connections between these three periods of American history. Of these connections, the most prevalent is that all three classes cover the period immediately following a time of war and great national upheaval. In fact, it could be argued that they cover the aftermath of the three most defining moments of conflict in this nation's history. 

In each case, the nation that emerged from the fire of war and ashes of loss was very different than the one that had existed beforehand. But also in each case, things did not go smoothly. The Alien and Sedition Acts under Adams' presidency and the infighting between Federalists and Jeffersonians nearly tore the new country apart in the 1790s. The violence, poverty, and oppression that developed in the South after the Civil War continues to leave ripples in our society today. The fear and uncertainty in this country after the Great War resulted in incredible violence, labor unrest, and general mistrust and backstabbing that rivals any other period in our history. These were not times of peace and prosperity for most people.

But these were also times of transformation. On the far side of the tumult the United State emerged as a "treaty-worthy" nation with equal standing to the major European Powers by the 1820s: as a newly united nation that passed legislation to, not only abolish slavery, but grant civil rights and suffrage to it former slaves by 1870: and as the preeminent world power that became a potent symbol of the positive force of democracy, especially when contrasted with the totalitarian regimes that would soon emerge. Although in each case, there were plenty of reasons to despair, there were also very good reasons to hope in these periods that most define our nation.

A few weeks ago Alison and I saw a performance of Shakespeare's play, "Much Ado About Nothing." It is a tale full of scheming, backbiting, and attempts to thwart others. But in the end, the truth prevails and all of the plotting and deception proves to be much ado about nothing. Perhaps, in the bigger picture, as hopeless as things may seem, even our current political culture will prove to be likewise.

It remains to be seen what role 9/11 and the wars waged in its aftermath will play in the legacy and future of the United States, but perhaps we have more reason to hope than it might often appear.

This past Saturday Alison and I had the pleasure of watching "The Fellowship of the Ring"with all of the music performed live at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. It is a splendid way to watch the film. Although I have seen that movie at least 20 times, there is One Scene that grabs hold of me every time I see it. Saturday was no exception.

In the dark of Moria, when all hope seems lost, Frodo laments:
"I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened."

Gandalf's response reveals wisdom that transcends that particular moment:
"So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

We cannot control our circumstances, but we can decide how we respond to the situations we face and what we do with the time that we have on this earth.

But Gandalf doesn't stop there. He continues by saying:
"There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil."

And concludes with the statement:
"Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought."

That is, indeed, an encouraging thought. We don't have to look very hard to find the reality of evil in this world, and few events speak of its presence in this nation with more force than 9/11. But we do have reason to hope. There is more going on than the reign of evil. There are more powerful forces at work if we have the eyes to see them.

We don't know how much time we have or how and when we will die. But we do know that we have an opportunity each day to make this world a better place than we found it. And we do know that God is sovereign, and that even when we cannot see the way ahead, his power is still very much at work.

So on this twelfth anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11 take a long view of history and find hope in the thoughts that we can change the world we live in, that no matter what we face, we always have the chance to decide how we will respond, and most of all, that there are forces at work in this world more powerful than the will of evil.

Reflections from Previous Years

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